Choreography Christopher Hampson, Music Sergio Prokovief
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Christopher Hampson's Cinderella returns to Edinburgh for a Christmassy December run before touring Scotland and Newcastle. It's eleven years since Hampson's interpretation of the classic rags-to-riches romance hit the antipodean stages and a mere three since it last graced the Festival Theatre. Certainly it's showing no signs of tiring out and that's certainly a testimony towards its enduring endearment from audiences and critics alike.
Hampson's take on the ballet follows a fairly traditional take on the story, hitting the classic story beats while eschewing some minor details and streamlining some of the action while substituting some novelty into the proceedings, notably a distinct theme of nighttime gardens, a perpetual rose motif and Cinderella's mother's grave being under a rose bush of a curiously uterine shape. Feel free to draw your own conclusions there, about both the ballet and this critic.
Sophie Martin puts in an excellent turn as the put-upon daughter, bullied and harassed by her new step family and with her alcoholic father (Christopher Harrison) barely present both onstage or in faculties, as he frequently pulls gulps liberally from a silver hip-flask. Martin manages to create a sympathetic but never pathetic Cinderella, as she dances in ever more complex and interesting fashions, almost to mirror her own strength as more tangible things are stripped from the character onstage.
Complimenting her are solid turns from Marge Hendrick and Araminta Wraith, who perform as the Step-mother and Fairy Godmother respectively, with Hendrick's quickly angering bursts of furious action and sudden violence hinting at the wickedness beneath the character's surface. Wraith, on the other hand, floats ethereally through her moments and amidst her bouquet of Roses in a mesmeric and enchanting way.
Nevertheless, while it so often is the wont and privilege of the grumpy critic to pour scorn where he sees fit, it also affords the allowance to find joy where he chooses. As such, I can only say that for myself, the show was stolen by the antics of Cinder's wicked step-sisters, who, from the latter part of the first act, overtook the action onstage with a frenzied exuberance. It's a factor endemic to the material that, considering how well known the story is and how the latter acts suffer from both a lack of the titular character herself, the antics of the sisters come to the fore.
In this vacuum steps Grace Horler as the tall Step-sister: a dervish of spiteful energy and creepy sexual aggression, the very picture of her onstage mother writ slightly smaller, keenly throwing herself at the Prince in wonderfully sullen and needy teenage fashion, whilst Kayla-Maree Tarantolo puts in a contrarily adorable performance as the shorter and younger sister, glowing across the stage in her despite her diminutive size, with an enthusiastic wonderment and abandon.
Moreover, as Hampson's chalk and cheese pair offset each other beautifully, the ballet strays into building a buddingly sweet mini-romance around Tarantolo and one of the Prince's friends, a pairing that not only builds throughout the 2nd and 3rd acts, but has a pay-off that won arguably more applause and sighs from the audience than the final return of the slipper to the heroine.
While this is certainly an absolute credit to the work of all involved, it also underlines a thinness to the main Royal romance, which falls mainly on the part of the Prince, who is not only a barely sketched presence, but one costumed in garments so close to those of his two companions that I didn't recognise that he was the Prince until the stage lights clearly lit upon the glittering sequins of his jacket. This isn't particularly the fault of Barnaby Rook-Bishop, whose footwork and movements are accomplished and precise, conveying the ruler's sad loneliness during his big moments, but somehow only to vanish into the throng for much of the rest of the ballroom antics of act II.
Such gripes aside, this is still a wonderful evening's entertainment at the ballet and Hampson's creation has shown that it can stand the test of time, through both the reaction of critics and audiences alike. It's an ageless tale, told in a style that is as immediately accessible to the newcomer as it is enjoyable to the devotee. What's more, at this festive time of year, it's something of a Christmas treat.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan